Many of our daily actions and activities produce some form of waste. A lot of us have formed great habits at home to reduce the amount of waste we create, but unfortunately these good habits tend to go out the window when we travel. As a result, a lot of this waste ends up in places where it shouldn’t be, like on the street or in the ocean – which isn’t exactly the kind of thing we want to see on holiday! Here are some of our top tips on how to reduce waste when travelling!

What kind of waste might I produce when traveling?

As humans we create a lot of different kinds of waste! We like to split them into two categories to differentiate the most common kinds of waste we produce.
The first is what we personally call “physical waste“. This is the kind of waste we can see with our own eyes, like trash, that we have to put in a bin and dispose of. This might be in the form of single-use plastics such as drinks bottles, bags and street food containers, as well as excess food that we couldn’t finish or even souvenirs that we buy in the spur of the moment!

(Images: Trash on the beach in Mar del Plata, Argentina)

The second is what we personally call “invisible waste“. This type of waste is the kind that we might not always see and is therefore easy to forget about. For example, the electricity wasted if we left a light on unnecessarily, the pollution we created when we took a flight or the excess water we used when taking a long shower or bath.

When we travel we don’t stop producing physical or invisible waste, yet for some reason it often becomes something we no longer think about. This is a problem because travelling usually means that we’re visiting a new place where other people and animals live, where other systems and rules are in place. By not being conscious of the waste we produce and leaving it for someone else to clear up isn’t very kind, especially if you’re in a country that doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with it.

Where does my waste go?

Most of the time, our waste ends up in one of three places:

  • In landfill: when you throw something in the bin it usually gets taken to a large piece of land where there’s an even larger pile of trash. These heaps of trash grow faster than they can breakdown and can contaminate the soil and groundwater underneath.
  • Down the drain: toxins, chemicals and microplastics from fabrics, cleaning products and toiletries get washed down drains, ending up in our waterways and eventually the ocean.
  • On the ground: trash is often dropped on the ground as litter. This litter tends to be left on the street or ends up floating in the ocean after being carried off by the wind.

(Image: Beach clean up in Mar del Plata, Argentina)

Fortunately, with a little conscious effort, there are several things we can do to reduce waste when travelling and ensure the impact we have on our holiday destinations is a positive one!

How to reduce physical waste

The key to reducing waste is in our habits. If you can form good habits when it comes to your daily actions and choices, you’d be surprised at how big a difference you can make!

Invest in reusables

By investing in reusable items you can dramatically reduce waste when traveling. Reusable bottles, fabric bags, cutlery and tupperware boxes or beeswax food wraps are all amazing items that fit in your daypack and will help you say no to single-use plastics several times a day!

(image: at a local market in Colombia with a reusable backpack)

Conscious consumerism

As consumers we have immense power to influence change. Companies produce items that are in demand. Therefore, if we demand products that are ethically made, are free from unnecessary plastic packaging and use sustainable materials then companies will have to start making these options available for us.
Try looking for local food markets that sell loose fruit and vegetables if you need to buy groceries. Don’t use the mini-toiletries in your hotel room. Start conversations with people and ask if they have alternative options!

Minimise food waste

Food waste is a big problem all over the world. It’s a well-known statistic that around one third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. If you eat out a lot on holiday, look around at the other tables to get an idea of portion sizes and order appropriately. Why not share plates with your travel partner, or order a starter if the mains looks too big. Alternatively, if you have a tupperware box handy you can ask for the leftovers to go!

The same goes for groceries if you cook for yourself on the road. Plan your meals and only buy what you need to avoid having to throw out unused ingredients.

(image: storing food leftovers with reusable beeswax wraps)

Plan ahead

Before you head out for the day, think about your plans. Will you need to drink water? Probably! So, remember to pack your reusable bottle. Are you going to shop for souvenirs? Maybe! Grab that canvas bag to carry extra goodies in. Fancy treating yourself to a cocktail on the beach? Remember to ask for no straw in your glass.

With a few minutes of planning before you leave the apartment or hotel room, you can already have the choices you want to make in mind, meaning it will be easier to follow through with them throughout the day!

How to reduce “invisible” waste

Be conscious of water and energy consumption.

Water and electricity are commodities that we use a lot every day and it’s so easy to waste them without realising! Taking shorter showers and turning the tap off when brushing your teeth or lathering your hands with soap can save hundreds of litres of water per month.

Turning off lights when you leave your hotel room and unplugging items that you’re not using will help to save electricity. It might not seem like much, but even on standby electronic devices are consuming electricity which means that fossil fuels are being burned somewhere!

If you’re going to a sunny destination, why not invest in portable solar panels! You’ll be charging your devices with energy captured from the sun, which is renewable, plus you’ll won’t have to worry about the battery going flat halfway through your day!

(image: portable solar panels to charge electronic devices)

Choose your transport wisely

Different modes of transport produce varying amounts of waste and pollution. Despite not always having a choice about the mode of transport you take when traveling, it’s good to be aware of the options available and how much waste they create.

Walking and cycling produce the least amount of waste. In many cities the things you’ll want to see may be closer than you think, so download a map before you leave your hotel and go explore on foot!

Public transport like buses and trains are cheap ways to get around and spread emissions and pollution between more people. Therefore they are a better option in terms of individual waste when compared to taxis and cars.

Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive actions an individual can participate in when it comes to emissions. If you need to travel by plane try to take direct flights, travel light and consider donating to a carbon off-setting program to reduce your contribution to energy consumption and waste.

Choose eco-friendly accommodations

There are lots of fantastic accommodations popping up all over the world that implement green and eco-friendly initiatives that help you to reduce waste while traveling without you having to lift a finger!
It’s important to do your research when booking eco-accommodations because there have been several reports of “greenwashing”. This means that a place claims to be eco-friendly in its practices through their marketing but in reality these initiatives aren’t actually happening.

Here are some tips on booking eco-friendly accommodation:

  • Thoroughly check the accommodation’s website for their green initiatives and look for accreditation from known organisations that advocate sustainability.
  • Alternatively you could try calling or emailing the place to ask for more details about their practices.
  • Ask for recommendations from blogs and people you trust who have been to the destination you want to visit.

(Image: Eco-friendly accommodation in Baños, Ecuador)

It’s all about the choices we make

Reducing waste when traveling is actually pretty easy and simply depends on the choices we make every day!

Being aware of the consequences of our actions and choosing the one that’s best not only for ourselves, but also the environment and others around us is the key to a better now and future.